Friday, March 5, 2010

Miller Appends The Guardian's List

Salon.com's Laura Miller adds her own list of suggestions to wannabe novelists as a compliment to The Guardian's recent article featuring writing advice from the pros. Excerpts:
Readers are what every novelist really wants, so isn't it about time that a reader offered them some advice? I've never written a novel, and don't expect to ever do so, but I've read thousands. More to the point, I've started 10 times the number of books that I've finished. Much of the time, I'm sampling brand-new novels that aren't great -- that frequently aren't even very good -- each one written by someone sincerely hoping to make his or her mark. I can tell you why I keep reading, and why I don't, why I recommend one book to my fellow readers, but not another. I've also listened to a lot of other readers explain why they gave up on a book, as well as why they liked it. Here are my five recommendations for the flailing novice ...
Read the whole thing. On the whole, Miller founds her advice on bedrock, emphasizing the need for characters that stop navel gazing and actually do something, as well as the primacy of plot. But one of her points seems about as sure as a fault line: "Remember that nobody agrees on what a beautiful prose style is and most readers either can't recognize 'good writing' or don't value it that much." I mean, really? Whither Strunk and White? And does popular opinion truly hold Cormac McCarthy in the same estimation as those who write of Renaissance conspiracies or twinkling creatures of the night? Yes, there are "as many books ruined by too much emphasis on style as by too little," amen and amen. The blockbusters, though, seem to succeed not because of shoddy diction, but in spite of it. Beautiful style isn't the main thing. But it is something.

(Picture: CC 2007 by
anitacanita; Hat Tip: Brandywine Books)

6 comments:

Scattercat said...

One could take that as "style and beautiful prose doesn't matter, so don't bother," or one could take it as, "don't worry about being beautiful or crafting perfect sentences, because for the most part they aren't (and probably shouldn't be) the focus." Beautiful prose empty of ideas has a very limited market. Strong ideas, even limited by mediocre prose, can achieve much more.

To put it another way: How beautiful your writing is is up to you, because you're the only one who will pay close enough attention.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I disagree, writing is about more than attracting masses of readers. Prose that endures is part of it. The books that last--the ones we still read today--are the ones with great writing and a great story. It is sad to think no one pays attention to good writing.

susiej said...

Loren,

I just popped over to say that I read Bark in the Genre Wars- chilling. I really liked it and I'm not usually a horror fan. The quality writing and the imagery it provoked was one of the things I liked best about it.

I was a bit spooked to go into the kitchen last night to get my daughter her proverbial drink of water. She liked the story too BTW and she skips the one she finds hard to follow or uninteresting. She's 14- yea, I know still getting her a bedside water- it never stops.

(quite horrible about poor Pippy-I knew the guy was bad news when he let his Pom out with "bobcats" around. I had to run and hug my own little Frodo after that.)

Loren Eaton said...

SC,

I took it more as the former, although Miller did moderate her opinion a bit in her explanation. And I agree that style ought to serve story. But lots of great authors have initially hooked me with striking styles, only to reel me in on subsequent rereadings with great stories.

Loren Eaton said...

Patti,

I find that the stories I really love tend to have both style and substance. Nothing like reading true things beautifully put.

Loren Eaton said...

Susan,

Thanks for your kind words! I'm glad it didn't send you screaming in the opposite direction. People seem a bit split on that short, it seems.

I'm a little embarrased to say that I haven't gotten very far in Genre Wars yet. Just got done with a statistics mid term. But "Luminescence" is next on my list!

Yes, I felt rather bad for Pippy, too. She got what oughtn't to have been coming to her. Maybe she'll, er, tag around with the pack from here on out.